End the Culture War
By David Brin, Ph.D.
[image from U.S. Intellectual History Society blog]
Let's finish* this series of "unusual suggestions for America and the Obama Administration" with the one that is simplest and most basic -- something that seems so easy and wise, you really have got to wonder why it hasn't already been done. Or at least tried.
Let me lay it on the line. We have one priority, above all others, because solving it will unleash our native aptitude at fixing every other problem. That priority is to cure the sickness that is eating away at the guts and marrow of the greatest nation in history. The nation that Jean Francois Revel called the "best hope" for the "best kind of human revolution." The kind of revolution that leads us to far higher horizons and to becoming better people, all around the world.
That priority is to put a stop to the treason that is called "culture war" and get us back to talking to one another again as grownups.
President Obama can play an important role in this endeavor, but most of the heavy lifting must be done by us, in shaking off simplistic dogmas and re-learning the arts of negotiation. In rediscovering that skill and ingenuity and goodness are more important than celebrity or cash. Insisting that both we and our neighbors cut out the sick habit of outrageous indignation, an addiction that makes fools of us and strawmen of our opponents.
Nevertheless, President Obama will be the most important single individual. And so, I want to conclude with a sincere suggestion to him. It isn't anything huge, just a gesture. Something simple, easy and cheap, but offering profound resonance, perhaps setting a tone that would ring across the land. I have proposed this idea before -- to President Bush, who ignored it. Here it is one more time.
Honor (and perhaps win over) the losing side.
What does "majority rule" mean? Suppose your candidate wins by close to a 60/40 vote margin. You can call that a solid victory, in modern political terms. But it still means that four in ten voting citizens did not want your guy in office. To that forty percent, the word "mandate" translates as -- drop dead!
Might there be some way to acknowledge the losing minority? One that both lessens their sense of humiliation and makes them more willing to accept that the winners really do mean well? Imagine our new President making the following pledge:
I now ask my honorable opponent in the recent election -- Senator McCain -- to help pick a panel of Americans who are well-outside my normal political or social circle. In this case, I'd like him to help fill it especially with many varied types of "conservatives." This panel will have one power. Except during periods of crisis, they will get control over my appointment calendar one afternoon per month. On that afternoon, I'll meet with -- and listen to -- individuals or delegations beyond my regular horizon. In this small way, I hope Americans of all persuasions will feel just a little more sure that I do not live in a tower of ideological isolation, but that I stand ready to hear diverse -- even dissenting -- points of view.
Such a pledge would cost Barack Obama little to make or to fulfill. There is no obligation to act on what the delegations say, only to be accessible, listening occasionally to more than one ideology. More than one brain trust of cloned advisors. Indeed, the legitimacy of an administration will be enhanced if we see the president receive articulate, passionate emissaries, representing diverse opinions and walks of life. (In fact, what better way to contrast his administration vs the Bush-Cheney era?)
This would also help the country return to its traditions. During the first era of our republic, private citizens used to knock on the door of the White House and ask to see their nation's leader. As recently as the time of Harry Truman, there was a slim chance of seeing the president somewhere in public -- buying socks for real, not as a publicity stunt. Not thronged by photographers and Secret Service agents.
There is genuine peril in losing this connection between power and everyday life. If today's president cannot safely venture among us, representatives of sundry outlooks should have a route to him or her. With this precedent set, not just public figures, but individuals from the ranks of the poor and dispossessed might win a chance to plead their case before the highest official in the land.
Moreover, this would give those tens of millions who lost the election something. A token perhaps, but far more than they expect. A gesture of respect. A vow to listen.
And that concludes this series of suggestions to the incoming Administration. I am proud to live in an era and a nation where a fellow like me -- notoriously outspoken and contrarian -- has the means and opportunity to voice proposals that range from mundane to ingenious to outright crackpot.
We all have to offer what we can, in order to keep momentum going, in this, the greatest of all human renaissance eras. Of course, these suggestions are based on a fervent wish and prayer that this nation, civilization, species will have a good year (decade, century!) ahead, a steady climb toward wisdom...
... as I hope and pray for you, in the year and years ahead.
[image from Daily Kos]